Hutchinson named PV’s permanent principal
March 17, 2020
(Editor’s Note: Smoke Signal reporters planned to attend Monday’s Board of Education meeting. However, due to suggested COVID-19 precautions, they chose not to attend the meeting and instead used the livestream for its reporting.)
In a 7-2 vote, the Board of Education approved Brian Hutchinson, the Emerson Junior-Senior High School principal, as Pascack Valley’s permanent principal for the 2020-2021 school year at its meeting Monday afternoon. The board also approved Pascack Hills’ Assistant Principal Tim Wieland as PH’s principal.
“He is an experienced principal,” district Superintendent Erik Gundersen said. “He is also a compassionate individual who recognizes the strengths and challenges that everyone in his building experiences. He has been a leader throughout Bergen County. Brian Hutchinson is going to be an excellent principal for Pascack Valley High School.”
Over 70 community members, students, and teachers expressed their disappointment at the board’s decision to not choose John Puccio, PV’s assistant principal for the past 12 years, as PV’s permanent principal. He stepped in as interim principal following the retirement of Tom DeMaio on Dec. 20 this school year.
“This is not to say that any individual either internal or external would not make for a qualified or good principal,” Gundersen said, “but it was my charge to make sure that I’m providing the recommendation to the board on who I believe would be the strongest, most effective, and most productive school principals for Valley and Hills for the years to come. I feel confident that I have done that.”
The meeting was live-streamed on YouTube since many people chose not to attend with county and state officials urging them to stay home as a coronavirus precaution. BOE member Jim Stankus made a motion to table the new principal decision until a later time when the public could come. However, the board voted 7-2 to approve the decision at the meeting.
“It is by no measure a public meeting if the public may be precluded either by age or physical disability from personally attending,” Stankus said. “I believe only items necessary for the continued function of the district be voted on at this time, with all other items tabled until public access is once again established.”
BOE member Joseph Blundo seconded the motion and added that a 4 p.m. meeting is not convenient for the community to come when a high-level public interest decision is being made.
“While I am very impressed with the activity under the [board] president’s leadership to set up this remote ability for the public to speak,” Blundo said, “I still think that it is not the same as having an auditorium filled with people like we did on some other very controversial items.”
Blundo acknowledged that the community could send comments in advance through a Google Form or call-in during comments from the public, but said “they weren’t heard as thoroughly as they would be if [the meeting] was completely open.”
“Frankly, if it was open and they did show up, there would be more than 50 people here,” Blundo said. “In no way are my comments a reflection on [Hutchinson’s] ability to lead Pascack Valley High School. This is about my belief that this meeting should be delayed until the public can speak, be heard, and we can take a vote.”
During public comments, community members and students also asked the board to reconsider making the decision due to coronavirus within the area.
“We feel we haven’t had the chance to have our voice heard here,” said De Scacchetti, a PV parent and River Vale resident. “I ask you to please think about this and give us time as a community to respond.”
Gundersen said around 97 total individuals applied for the principal positions — 68 who were qualified and 13 who would be interviewed — which was posted on Jan. 15, and the candidates had until Feb. 2 to apply. To choose the principal, a feedback survey was sent to the community in an email, an online interview was conducted, and a second interview was overseen by senior administrators.
As a certified administrator, Stankus said he has “serious questions” on how the principal recommendation was decided and has not seen a “scored rubric or data.”
“The community has spoken loudly tonight on this issue,” Stankus said. “I’m sure the candidate is qualified, but I know what we have, and the students, parents, and teachers well know what they will lose. We will lose more than just a principal — we will lose a spirit of unity within the community. In the best interest of this academic institution and students, I would not vote to approve the appointment of the new principal at Pascack Valley.”